By Jason Poon (@jasonhpoon)
Some things just never seem to change: The grass is always greener, the other side of the pillow is definitely cooler and people are still speculating whether Toronto will finally make the playoffs or not. It's been eight years since Toronto entered the league and they are still the running joke of the league (besides the recently folded Chivas USA) that they will forever be the groomsmen and never the groom when it comes to MLS success. There was even a joke that I could have used the exact same preview from 2014 and just replaced a few names and just hit submit.
Even after making it rain to bring in big name talents in 2014 (a forward that shall not be named, Michael 'The General' Bradley, Gilberto, and Julio Cesar), Toronto still fell short of the playoffs. But none of that discouraged them from doing it again this past offseason, as the front office continues to embrace the "Go Big AND Go Home" model. All eyes will be on Toronto again, at least for the first few weeks of the season. They will either come true with their plans to build a successful club and fans will maintain their attention, or they'll start fizzling out by week ten and continue to be the the model team for consistent futility.
Spend Big (Again)
The biggest surprise this offseason came from Toronto managing to convince Sebastian Giovinco to come to MLS in the prime of his career. Bigger foreign names have come to these parts of the world to ply their trade, but none came at the supposed height of their powers. Exactly what TFC's front office offered Giovinco is a mystery, but my gut is telling me "unicorns and pizza with Canadian bacon."
To round things off, they also brought in some striker who can't score goals at the club level by the name of Jozy Altidore, who oddly enough seems to do just fine at the international level. They also brought in a stable veteran in Benoit Cheyrou of Marseille to pair with Bradley in the midfield. And while people are focusing on those big names, the one that will probably make or break this team is Polish international central defender Damien Perquis. TFC shipped a lot of goals in 2014, 5th worst in MLS to be exact, and bolstering their defense was a must.
The big question of course is how will all these new acquisitions adapt to playing together and to a new league simultaneously? The thing is, no one really knows. It could be anywhere from 'instant impact' to 'needed a year to adjust' and in even more extreme cases, 'complete bust'. It's really that wide open and really that unpredictable. But there is some sense of hope that at least Altidore will adjust quickly having been a product of MLS during his teenage years and that he has a reliable teammate in Bradley to consistently get him the ball.
It's no surprise Toronto has the funds and the ownership willing to spend big for marquee signings, but the question remains whether they have the patience to let those signings settle into the league before they blow up the roster again if things go bad for the club.
As disappointing as 2014 was for TFC after splashing the cash, there were actually quite a lot of improvements for Toronto last season. Despite finishing at a disappointing 7th place in the Eastern Conference, TFC actually set a club record of 41 points in 2014, a 12 point improvement over their abysmal 2013 campaign. On top of that, they also set a franchise record of 11 wins (granted they secured 10 wins in 2009 in 30 games as opposed to 11 wins in 34 matches for 2014). And finally, TFC also set a club record of scoring 1.29 goals per game last season, breaking their previous record of 1.23 goals per game in 2009. So while the playoffs eluded TFC yet again, at least there were marked improvements across the board.
To dive into the stats a bit more, TFC's 2014 Expected Goals For (xGF) was 1.50, which is significantly higher than their 1.29 actual GF that they were able to generate. Their xGA was 1.53 while their xGA was 1.33. Based on that, I would venture that they would do pretty well in 2015 had they kept their roster mostly intact, but since the Front Office blew up the roster again, it's hard to know whether this trajectory is sustainable or not.
I found this the other day, and found this quote to be rather fascinating:
"If Toronto FC loses 3 consecutive matches at BMO Field in 2015, all beer sold inside the stadium on match day will be half price until next TFC victory at home."
I don't actually know if the club will come good on that when that actually happens. This was the same group that said to "write it down" that they'll make the playoffs last year, so there's not a lot of credibility here, but this does show a mark of understanding that there's a growing discontent among their supporters from the lack of on field production and results. And generally speaking, if the front office picks up on it then it's probably one to two seasons too late.
The Toronto faithful have stood and cheered their team for nearly a decade of unprecedented failures and underachievement. Just how much more of it can they take is up in the air. I for one am curious if the supporters will renew their love and passion for the club and help push them into years of success, or will they feel that enough is enough and do a self exile, leaving BMO Field a nearly empty stadium for the first time in club history?
I actually think the playoffs will happen for Toronto this year, but not before they endure a roller-coaster regular season filled with winning streaks followed by losing streaks. I'll also say they go past the 47 point mark this season (assuming there's no lockout) and not because Altidore or Giovinco come good as DPs, but by the sheer will and determination of a healthy Michael Bradley. Bradley's always been pegged as the one that's "not good enough" at any level for any number of reasons, yet has somehow found the way to disprove all of that nonsense. The joke's out there that TFC isn't good enough for the playoffs in 2015, and I believe that Bradley is up for the task to disprove that nonsense.